Last Things: Death and the Apocalypse in the Middle Ages

Last Things: Death and the Apocalypse in the Middle Ages

Last Things: Death and the Apocalypse in the Middle Ages

Last Things: Death and the Apocalypse in the Middle Ages

Synopsis

The authors bring tegether 11 essays that focus on the competing eschatologies of the Middle Ages and on the ways in which they expose different sensibilities and theories of the human person, and different understandings of the body, of time, of the end.'

Excerpt

Eschatology comes from the Greek eschatos—furthest or last—hence our title, Last Things, the term medieval thinkers themselves used for the variety of topics covered in this book. Recent scholarship has tended to treat separately concerns that both medieval intellectuals and ordinary people would have seen as closely linked: death, the afterlife, the end of time (whether terrestrial or beyond earth), and theological anthropology or the theory of the person. in bringing within one set of covers essays on all four topics, it is our contention that none can be understood without the others. the interest in medieval death since the foundational work of Philippe Ariès in the 1960s and 1970s, the older debates over the conflict between resurrection and immortality generated by Oscar Cullman in the 1940s, the flurry of attention to the geography of the afterlife stimulated by Jacques Le Goff’s The Birth of Purgatory in 1981, the outpouring of research on millennialism and apocalypse produced in reaction to Norman Cohn’s Pursuit of the Millennium (1957), and recent study of the understanding of the human person stimulated in part by German scholars but carried into more popular discourse by historians such as Simon Tugwell and Caroline Bynum-this large body of literature has even more far-reaching implications when taken together than when considered as separate areas of research. the moment of death, the places of the afterlife to which souls depart (heaven, hell, and purgatory), the final judgment or millennial age that may either be or presage the end of time, and the person, reunited at judgment or in the afterlife, are all “last things.” By considering them together, we hope to add to discussions of how eschatological attitudes changed over time, to bring into sharper focus the divergent eschatological assumptions of the Middle Ages and the conflicts or incompatibilities among them, and to raise more explicitly than is sometimes done the question of how eschatological understandings hovered over human experience, inflecting the ways people spoke about values and hopes.

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